15 November 2008

Joan Baez

Joan Baez was in concert this past Thursday evening at the State Theater in Minneapolis. It was a Homecoming. When I was seventeen years old, I picked up Renee Lerner in my family’s beat up gray Chevrolet station wagon and took her to hear Joan Baez at the Hempstead Arena on Long Island.

When Joan Baez came out on stage (my fifteen year old daughter was clearly one of the youngest in the audience), she announced that she was celebrating two events: the first was that our country was clean again; and the second that she had been performing for fifty years. Of the first celebration I have not ceased to speak since November 4: we have indeed entered a new moment in history, and I am glad that I can be a part of it, in a way not at all dissimilar to my great thrill to have lived during the 1960s and the moments of the Civil Right Movement, and Beatles, and Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. I have lived through wonderful moments in history. And this moment is as precious and shattering as are the previous. It is over: the reign of terror, the horrible reign of history and slavery and racism. I walked on campus yesterday behind two African-Americans, and I felt different: they shared the color of the President of the United States. It is a new world.

And the celebration that Joan Baez announced immersed me in that very history. With the first song, “Lily of the West,” I was thrown back to the beginning of my relationship with her—forty-five or so years ago. And all of the history of that past forty-five years stood on that stage with her. Her singing, her activism, her relationship with Dylan, her anti-war stand, her marriage to David Harris, his imprisonment for draft resistance, her retreat to a quiet and relative peace, her regular concert appearances, and now her celebration.

I lost touch with her over the years. I am not certain why—I think I have lost touch with a great deal with what once gave me strength. Perhaps that is a definition of getting old. I’d like to cease that deadly movement right now, and reconnect myself to recovered and new sources of life and sustenance. Joan Baez is certainly one of those sources.

Her last song was an a capella version of “Amazing Grace.” And without a word of urging, everyone in the audience sang with her. It was a prayerful moment. I have experienced such events at Arlo Guthrie concerts, though not with the holy aura pervading the event this evening. Tonight was a moment of Thanksgiving two weeks before Thanksgiving, and one week after an historical moment for which to give thanks. I think Anna Rose appreciated the historicity of the moment, and she allowed me to experience my emotion. I don’t know many people that offer me that respect.


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